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A WORD TO THE UNWISE

The only thing worse than learning that the Buffalo school system hired a grant manager with a felony embezzlement record is finding out that school officials were repeatedly warned about the dangerous situation.

A school system that seems doggedly bent on teaching lessons in how NOT to run a major enterprise needs to find out just why those warnings came to nothing, who knew what and why nothing was done. The current probe into the possible mishandling of an $800,000 federal grant may or may not turn up evidence of a worker's failings. But the possible misbehavior of one employee is of less concern than the failure of the district's management system -- or what now passes for one.

This community deserves solid answers about why nothing -- apparently, not even a record in the employee's personnel file -- resulted from a federal probation department notice of her criminal past, a phone call expressing concern over her promotion into the grants office and a written warning she was a risk in any job handling money.

Sheila Johnson-Moore currently is suspended with pay. An investigation by the district attorney's office is under way and a forensic accountant hired by the School Board is investigating the financial records. Newly appointed Interim School Superintendent Marion Canedo has ordered the district's director of labor relations to determine how the warnings were handled and report those findings to the School Board.

Whatever the details, these warnings weren't handled well enough. Somebody needs to pay a stiff price.

Beyond actions against an employee or two, the district needs to use this embarrassment to establish structural changes in the system's administration. Schools here have too few resources to lose more through mismanagement.

The School Board's stopgap measures -- mandating department reports to an assistant superintendent and specifying that those who work to win grants can't also manage them -- are a temporary step in the right direction. It's obvious, though, that permanent restructuring is needed, and that, at the least, better background checks are vital for money-management hirings and promotions.

Call it Accountability 101, if you will -- but make sure it's a take-home lesson.

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